Photos make fine souvenirs but you can’t have them for dinner.
From now on, when I want to recall my visit to Monza last June, I can reminisce over a plate of steaming risotto alla monzese (Monza Style Risotto) like the one I sampled there.
The recipe comes courtesy of Guidarte guide and architect Laura Radaelli who escorted our media group around the charming medieval city.
In the course of exchanging e-mails to fact check my “Off the Beaten Track in Monza” article for Dream of Italy newsletter, I learned that Laura is an enthusiastic home cook. She shared some lore about the town’s signature dish along with the preparation method.
Laura writes, “Even though Monza is only 12 km away from Milan, this preparation is quite different from the Milanese risotto.
“We don’t use saffron (it was reserved to the aristocracy for it was too expensive for the people), no marrow, and we put robust red wine instead of white. The reason is because in Monza and Brianza [the surrounding province] red wine is traditional: it was produced by the original Celt inhabitants even before the Roman domination started (3rd Century B.C.). Strabo (1st Century B.C.) wrote about the presence in our villages of “barrels of wine as big as houses.” Sadly in 1860 phylloxera destroyed most of the ancient vines of our hills.
“But the key ingredient is Luganega (accent on the first “a”) which is practically impossible to translate. It is a very special kind of sausage made out of our typical products: finely ground pork meat (preferably the shoulder) and very low proportion of fat, spices, red wine (obviously) and the special but fundamental addition of plenty of grana cheese to bind the mixture. All is stuffed into a natural sheep or lamb casing and looks like a long coil of rope about 3-4 cm thick and many meters long, hence the ancient name of ‘Rope of Monza’.”
A few notes on my adaptation: Laura prefers the Vialone Nano variety of superfino rice but the more commonly found Arborio works well too. She recommends Barbera wine. I used a Barbaresco. The Luganega sausage can be difficult to source outside of major metro areas in the States. I could probably have found some in Philadelphia or NY but that would have left a really big carbon footprint on my dinner. I opted to prepare some Luganega. It was practically no work because I didn’t stuff it into a casing.
Risotto alla Monzese
Makes 6 to 8 first-course servings
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound (2 1/2 cups) superfino rice (such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano)
1 cup Barbera or other dry Italian red wine, divided
3/4 pound Luganega sausage, cut into small chunks or rolled into marble-sized balls (recipe follows)
5 cups heated beef or chicken broth (approximately)
1/2 cup grated Grana Padana or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese + extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Minced flat-leaf parsley (optional garnish)
In a large heavy pot, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until translucent and soft. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until glazed with the butter. Add 3/4 cup wine and turn up the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the wine has been absorbed.
Stir in about one-third of the sausage chunks and cook for several minutes until no longer opaque. Add about 1/2 cup broth. Lower the heat to the point where the liquid barely simmers. Cook, stirring in the remaining stock a little at a time whenever it is absorbed by the rice. This will take about 15 minutes. All of the broth may not be used.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the remaining sausage over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until no longer opaque. Add the remaining 1/4 cup wine and cook for 5 minutes, or until it evaporates. Remove from the heat. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes so that it makes a bit of fragrant juice.
After 15 minutes, start tasting the rice for texture. When it is tender with just a bit of resistance at the center, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the cheese (this is called mantecare) for a couple of minutes until you obtain a fluid and creamy risotto.
Now you can serve the rice in hot soup plates. Make a little hole in the middle of the risotto with a spoon and put the pieces of Luganega with some of its juices. Add some extra cheese on top and garnish with parsley, if using.
Makes 2 pounds
2 pounds pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed of any connective tissue, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground coriander
Pinch of ground nutmeg
3/4 cup grated Grana Padana or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a meat grinder or a food processor, grind the pork to a fine coarseness. Transfer to a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the wine, salt, pepper, coriander, and nutmeg until the spices dissolve. Drizzle over the pork. With clean fingers, rake the wine mixture into the pork taking care not to compress the mixture. Sprinkle on the cheese and rake together.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Any leftover sausage can be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to several months.